Dad calls me at home. Mom fell on the way to her bedroom. The second time in three weeks. Since he hasn’t the strength to lift her, he asks if I’d drive over and help him get her to bed. I’m in the middle of dinner but promise to leave right away.
“Don’t ruin your dinner.” Rachel is annoyed because we had plans to watch a movie together. “I hope this doesn’t become a habit.”
The deluge of rain makes driving difficult and doesn’t improve my mood. I remind myself to replace my windshield wipers before I have an accident.
Mom has fallen several times in the last year, usually on stairs. She’s never hurt herself and, until recently, Dad was able to help her up. Leslie and I had hoped that moving to an apartment would prevent these falls. Apparently not.
Forty minutes later, I reach the apartment. I use my spare key rather than ring the bell. I don’t want to disturb Dad if he’s sitting on the floor holding Mom’s hand. Instead, from the entry hall, I find him in his recliner.
“Where’s Mom?” I’m annoyed the emergency is over, and I’ve made the trip for no reason.
He points down the hall where Mom lies on the floor covered with a blanket. Her head rests on a pillow, her eyes are closed. For a horrible moment, I think she’s dead.
“Is that you, Mark?”
“Are you in pain?” I kneel beside her. “Does your neck hurt?”
“I’m fine.” She acts as if she’s been forced to lie there against her will. “I tripped on the rug—”
Dad interrupts. “Because you refuse to use your walker. This is what happens.”
“I’m sorry I’m late.” I take her hand. “Did you think you’d spend the night on the floor?”
“I could have fallen asleep if your father had turned off the hall light shining in my eyes.”
We lift Mom and help her into the bathroom. Her nightgown is damp and smells of urine. I return with a clean one from her bureau, hand it to Dad, and close the door. While waiting, I lie back on Mom’s bed and close my eyes. I hear water running into the tub. When the bathroom door opens, I jump up and help maneuver her into bed. Dad counts out her pills, while I fetch a glass of water. “Better than sleeping on the floor,” she says, yawning. I wish her goodnight.
Dad turns off her light and joins me in the living room. “Thanks for coming over.” He’s relieved, but his face shows how worried he’s been.
“No big deal.” I wonder how often he’ll call me in the future. I can’t run over once or twice a week to raise the HMS Queen Harriet. And one of these days, a fall will be serious.
I call Leslie the next day and suggest we hire a home health aide for the evenings. “She can give Mom a bath and help her get ready for bed.”
When Leslie and I visit the next Saturday, Mom is taking a nap. The perfect opportunity to discuss our idea with Dad. But when we suggest an aide, he acts surprised. “We’re not at that point yet.”
Leslie will brook no excuses. “We will be if Mom starts falling on a regular basis.”
Dad waves his hand dismissively. “The other night only happened because she didn’t use her walker. She’s trying to prove she doesn’t need it.”
“You need to insist.” Leslie tries to be calm. “She’ll fracture her hip if she doesn’t use it.”
Dad throws up his arms. “She won’t listen to me—”
“Dad, you can’t expect Mark to be available every time you call—”
“The home aide will take the burden off you,” I interrupt, before Leslie or Dad lose their tempers. I don’t want him to think I’m unwilling to help. “You’ll be more relaxed in the evening.”
“I don’t do much all day except relax.” The doorbell rings. “That’s the grocery store.” He opens the door.
“Good evening, Mr. Aherne.” The delivery man is in his twenties. He carries two boxes into the kitchen. Leslie clears the kitchen table to unload the food.
Dad removes several coupons from his wallet. “Don’t forget these.” He waves them in the air.
The delivery man takes the coupons and updates the bill. They walk to the door where Dad hands him two dollars.
“Oh, thanks.” The man politely acts surprised. “You have a good afternoon, now.”
Back in the kitchen, Dad checks each item off the list. “What do you know? Nothing’s missing!”
Leslie picks up the conversation where we’d left off. “And if the aide gives Mom a bath, there’ll be less chance of her—”
“Who wants coffee?” Dad asks, pretending he doesn’t hear her. “I ordered half-and-half. The other carton turned bad. Coffee isn’t the same with the skim milk your mother uses.”
I take three mugs down from the cabinet.
“Get another one, will you? Your mother likes coffee when she wakes up.”
Leslie sits at the kitchen table and stares at the traffic on Mass. Avenue, waiting until we’re settled with our coffee. She won’t give up until Dad agrees
“Seriously,” she begins, leaning toward him, her elbows on the table. “It’s not good for the two of you to be alone all the time.”
“Is there anyone in the building you can call for help?” I speak before remembering that most of his neighbors are in their seventies and eighties. If one of them tried to help, my father would likely have two people on the floor.
By the end of the visit, Dad says he’ll think about an aide.
Better than a definite “no.” Keep chipping away.
We finish our coffee. Leslie washes up while I rip apart the boxes and bag the trash for the bins.
Leslie kisses Dad. “Tell Mom we’re sorry we missed her.”
I hug and kiss him too, half-expecting him to rebuke me. “We love you, guys.” The pressure of his hug tells me how much he misses human contact. I’m heart-sick to feel a spark of relief when I’m out of his arms. A childhood memory is hard to forget.
When I step into the hall, Dad reminds me to carry the pile of newspapers down for recycling. “Thanks for stopping by.” He closes the door.
Leslie unlocks her car. “That settles it. I’m ordering two of those Life Alert buttons. That’ll help, but I’m also getting a home health aide in there before I go on vacation if it’s the last thing I do.”
Leslie outfits our parents with MedAlert, and Dad agrees to try a home health aide. A woman is scheduled to begin the week Leslie returns from vacation. She leaves for New Hampshire satisfied with the progress she’s made.
And Mom? Getting out of bed early one morning, she trips and falls again. Dad uses his Alert button, an ambulance arrives, and Mom is off to Symmes Hospital.
I call Leslie early that morning at her cottage. “Mom’s at Symmes.”
“Oh, God! What now?”
“Did she hurt herself?”
“No, but it was four o’clock in the morning. Dad pushed the button. Thank God for that.”
“I’ll come this morning and drive back tonight—”
“Don’t ruin your vacation. Dad says there’s nothing you can do now anyway. Call tonight. Mom’s having some tests and she’s groggy from being awake half—”
“What tests? Is something wrong with her? I mean, more than falling.”
“The doctor says they’re routine. Like bringing your car in for an oil change. They’ll run a 24-point inspection.”
“At least they have good insurance. I’ll call Dad tonight. Is he staying in her room?”
“I’ve brought him home. He’s taking a nap and will drive himself back this afternoon.”
Mom remains in the hospital for three days. The doctor says she’ll be sent to a nursing home for rehabilitation. Mom is ineligible for Medicaid benefits because our parents’ savings and income are too high. Until she qualifies, they’ll be charged an amount far higher than what Medicaid pays the facility. Mom’s the golden goose who brings a sparkle to the eyes of nursing home administrators. In these circumstances, Dad has no trouble finding a vacancy within ten miles of their apartment.
Only later, do I recognize a fundamental conflict of interest in the system. How much rehabilitation will the staff invest in Mom if helping her get stronger means she’ll return home taking her golden eggs with her?
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